Journal – March-April 2009

Here’s a bumper batch of journal entries. In March I had a lot of fun with a few of my friends while taking an extended break in Exeter, plus I enjoyed Comic Relief on TV, and there were various things I bought and watched as usual. But I’ve also included my first entry from April as well, because next time I’ll be doing a special post about my holiday to Spain. So there’s a lot to get through here, I hope you enjoy it!

Sunday March 8, 2009

Ok, so I didn’t do another entry before last month finished – I’m getting incredibly lazy with my diary this year, aren’t I? But that’s only because there’s little to mention at the moment to be honest. I haven’t been anywhere special or done anything unusual, it’s been very quiet, which is a good thing really.

Things are picking up a bit now anyway. Financial year-end jobs have been going on at work, and without any major hitches so far, touch wood. That’s the main thing keeping us busy there, although there are also plenty of bus stop posters being done too.

As for home, I’ve got another £50 winging its way to me from ERNIE from the Premium Bonds later this month. And I’ve been finishing off the box set of James Bond DVDs – I got through all 20 films in the end! I saw Die Another Day last night, so I just need to watch the extras, then I can move on to the special edition of Casino Royale, and then Quantum of Solace, which I still need to get.

And on TV, Five’s version of Minder with Shane Richie has been alright. Not a patch on the original, naturally, but they’ve had a good crack at it. It would be nice to see them get a second series to see if they can keep going. It’d be fun to have guest appearances from Arthur and Terry too of course, although that’s very unlikely.

The week after next I’m going to be in Exeter for a few days, as my best mate SM will be down for his cataract operation on the Wednesday, and going home on the Sunday. His university friend TB’s coming down too, along with another of his uni friends who might pop over, plus AB will be with us. So it should be fun. And then, of course, next month is the holiday to Spain, which is fast approaching. I’ve got my travel insurance now anyway.

As for the news, the recession continues to bite, and interest rates are now at a record low of 0.5%, so quantitative easing – pumping more money into the economy, wrongly called printing money – is the next option. Another big story of the week is that the Sri Lankan cricket team were attacked by gunmen in Pakistan, so Pakistani cricket’s future is rather in doubt at the moment, including their part in the next Cricket World Cup. And, back here, some construction firms have been discovered to be secretly using a private database that contains details of employees without the knowledge of the workers, effectively blacklisting any that might be unsuitable, which is a breach of the Data Protection Act, and the workers’ dignity and human rights.

But, in more hopeful news, scientists have discovered a virus that may be responsible for certain types of diabetes, raising hopes of a vaccine in the future. And a bionic eye has helped to give a blind man some degree of sight again, after he lost his vision 30 years ago!

Tuesday March 17, 2009

As I’ve taken the week off work for my trip to Exeter, I thought I may as well do another entry before I go.

At work, we’ve done the main bulk of the financial year-end work now. P60s still need to be done, but if that happens this week I won’t be involved. They’re upgrading the Payroll system as well, so they’ve been liaising with us to try and make sure that things work at our end when it comes to printing things from it. They’re going to be running the old and new systems in parallel for a couple of months, transferring payrolls over when they feel ready to, so that could be interesting!

The other big thing is Job Evaluation. We had a briefing about that on Friday afternoon, telling us why it’s being done, what to expect, the support that’s available, and so on. We’re getting the results at the end of the month, so we’ll know if our pay’s gone up or down or stayed the same. I don’t envisage my salary dropping, but obviously I hope it doesn’t. I’m not expecting it to go up either though!

At home, I’ve got some more DVDs coming over the next week or two – Quantum Of Solace (the newest James Bond film, which has had mixed reviews), The Bill: Volume 2, Minder: The Channel Five Series and 2 DVDs for Wallace & Gromit – The Complete TV Collection & The Curse Of The Were-Rabbit, so they’ll keep me busy as usual.

But of course the big event this past week has been Comic Relief, which soon comes around even though it’s held every 2 years. And it’s been very good this year, with all sorts of contributions and programmes from a variety of celebrities, including a group that climbed Mount Kilimanjaro!

The appeal raised a phenomenal £57.8 million by the end of the night, which is £14.5 million more than any other total ever announced on Comic Relief night! And that isn’t even the end of it, as last time they added over £20 million to the telethon’s total, so this year’s fund is going to be huge. Despite the credit crunch we saw that people’s generosity was still evident during Children In Need, and this has gone way beyond that!

All of the merchandise helps of course, including the official singles that I bought – Islands In The Stream by Rob Brydon & Ruth Jones with Tom Jones & Robin Gibb, and Just Can’t Get Enough by The Saturdays. Plus all of the mobile phone companies got together in a first and unique move – by texting YES to 66609, £5 was automatically deducted from your phone bill, and all of it went to the charity, as the operators waived their fees and the government didn’t charge any VAT either. So I did that as well, as it was so easy.

And the programme itself on the big night was good fun, including special editions of Harry Hill’s TV Burp, OutnumberedThe Office as an opera, Doctor Who spin-off The Sarah Jane Adventures with Ronnie Corbett as a Slitheen, Little Britain, a Two Pints Of Lager crossover with Grownups & Coming of Age, and Mastermind. Plus there were sketches and appearances by French & Saunders doing a parody of the film Mamma Mia!, Mitchell & Webb vs Armstrong & Miller, James Corden as Smithy with the England football team, and stars of classic adverts having a meeting, among many other things.

So that’s been some good news to report recently, which is nice compared to the other stuff that’s been in the media, including shootings in both America and Germany (the latter at a school), more warnings about how people can hack into your computers to take over them for spamming and criminal activity, and Austrian Josef Fritzl has pleaded guilty over the case of his daughter being trapped in his cellar for two decades. So it’s not all been cheerful! Still, tickets for Michael Jackson’s recently announced final set of gigs at the O2 Arena have been selling like hot cakes, though I’m not interested in going personally.

So that’s about it really. I’m off to Exeter tomorrow morning, and will get back sometime on Sunday. SM arrives tomorrow morning, and we’ll meet AB too, before he has his laser surgery on his cataract in the afternoon. Then SM’s friend TB will be joining us late on Thursday. So it should be good fun. And as it’s Mother’s Day this coming weekend, I’ve ordered flowers and chocolates from John Lewis for Mum, so they should arrive on the Saturday. So, all in all, things are going pretty well.

Wednesday March 18, 2009

I went up to Exeter this morning, where I met SM at the B&B he was staying in – the Braeside Guest House. It’s on New North Road, just up from the Clock Tower on Queen Street, between Hele Road and Exeter Central station, so it’s in a nice central position and easy to find. The single room he has is a bit small – with a pokey little toilet cubicle in one corner, and another little cubicle just as small for the shower! But it’s a bed for the night nonetheless. He also has a small flat screen TV, and a sink of course, so it’s not bad. It’s not somewhere I’d want to stay, and he wouldn’t be fussed about going back there in the future, especially considering the price. But it does the job for what he wants.

Anyway, we then met up with AB and went for lunch at KFC (got to keep that tradition alive!), before I then went with SM to the hospital for his laser surgery. It didn’t take too long in the end – all they did was make a small hole, in the hope it would try and improve his focus a little bit. Which it hasn’t yet of course, but he can tell them if there’s been any change soon enough, as he’s got to come back in 6-8 weeks time for a check-up. They couldn’t make the hole too big, as there’s oil in his eye that was used to hold his retina in place after it became detached some years back, so they don’t want that coming out. But they might be able to make it a bit bigger if need be. We’ll just have to wait and see on that one. He’s going on holiday to the Caribbean in April (when I’m away with some friends in Spain), so it’ll be after that when he comes back down this way.

After his appointment, we didn’t do a lot for the rest of the day, mainly spending time in The Globe and playing some pool, or relaxing back at AB’s place. I then took SM back to his B&B, so he knew the route, and that was about it.

Thursday March 19, 2009

Today, AB had her regular bowling meeting with two of her team members, so SM & I tagged along and had a lane to ourselves next to them. We played 6 games altogether, with AB joining us for the final one, as we were doing the unlimited deal. I started off nicely and it went downhill from there, while SM started badly, peaked in the middle games, and then faltered in the last two again. But we did alright, with our scores often lingering around the 100 mark.

We then went and had a quick lunch at Subway, before meeting TB at Exeter Central when she arrived. SM’s now sharing a twin room with her, still at the same guest house. TB’s doing fine, and seems very happy in her job, which is good.

We went back to AB’s flat and played one of SM’s games that he’d brought with him, one of a couple of Christmas presents that he’s never used! This one was Spot The Intro, which basically has a CD of intros or short snippets from songs that you have to name, or you have to guess the musical instrument in one round. None of them were done by the original artist, they were just performances by whoever made the CD, which didn’t always help. And as we just left the CD running (without writing things down, which you would do if you were doing it properly), we didn’t get them all quick enough. But it was a good way of killing off an hour or so. And then, in the evening, we went down to On The Waterfront, the pizza place on the quay, and had a lovely meal there.

Friday March 20, 2009

SM & TB did a bit of shopping this morning, before we all met up and went down to The West of England School (our old school for children with visual impairments). SM had arranged to visit them at 1pm, to have a quick look around and to see if we could meet anyone we knew.

And we did meet a few familiar members of staff to begin with, including the lady who had been tasked with giving us the tour, which turned out to be quite interesting. For instance, the headmistress has added an extra layer of management, the old primary school building is now just offices, the nursery’s been replaced by a family centre of some sort (as there weren’t enough nursery kids), there’s a new outdoor classroom in the main playground outside the library (opened by the Duchess of Cornwall, no less, who is apparently very nice), our old IT teacher has retired but still comes in one day a week, there was a little art gallery of work by the children in the room where we used to be taught History, and the pool table in the boys boarding house has been replaced by couches and a big flat-screen TV!

There was nobody in the boarding houses to meet, but we did meet a few of our old teachers, who had taught us Design & Technology, Home Economics and English, and one of them still travels 100 miles in total each day just to teach there! We also chatted to a member of staff we know in the College there, and he told us that he saw one of our former support assistants recently. Apparently she’s now got a small swimming pool and a gym at her house, with the pool containing a current that can be switched on and off for her to swim against.

We also had a look at the new swimming pool at the school, incidentally, where a few of the current staff were having a little swimming session (being Friday afternoon, the school children themselves had gone home). I’d seen it before, but it is a nice pool, albeit a bit warm to stand around in there! They even had music on though, which was good.

We were also told that there have been discussions about the possibility of a reunion, so we left our contact details with that in mind. AB also ran off a long list of names of other people she had contact details for, should they wish to contact them through her!

So it was a nice little visit all in all, lasting a good couple of hours in the end. We didn’t expect to see lots of people we knew, but at least we saw quite a few, and had a nice look around the campus.

We were then hoping to go to The Tally Ho! pub for lunch, but it turns out it closes in the afternoon. So instead we went to George’s Meeting House – where I tried to pay for everyone’s lunch on my card to make it easier (they would then pay me back, obviously), but my card got declined! So, after we’d finished, we popped up to the bank, so I could see if I could draw some cash out. Which I couldn’t – but I could check my balance and mini-statement, strangely. I went into the bank to see if they could find out what was wrong, but the man at the desk, and the lady on the telephone banking line I was referred to, couldn’t find anything obvious. It turns out I have to speak to Card Services – but they close at 5pm, and I only found this out at 5:15pm! Typical! So I’ll have to phone them tomorrow. Thankfully, I was able to get out the money I wanted over the counter, so I’m not completely locked out of my account. And there are no obvious anomalies on my statement, thankfully.

Anyway, we spent the evening in The Globe again, having a few games of pool, with TB & AB against SM & I. And for our evening meal, we went to Just Neptune, the fish and chip shop just down the road, before SM & TB decided to head back to their hotel.

Saturday March 21, 2009

This morning the first thing I did was to ring my bank on the number I’d been given, and spoke to someone in Card Services. Turns out the system had automatically put a temporary block on my card. Amazon have started doing MP3 downloads recently, which I’ve been buying a few of in individual transactions, plus I’d done a big DVD order with them. But they were dispatching my order in bits as and when they could get hold of things, so there were several small debits from Amazon all in a row on my account. So the system flagged it up as unusual, and all I had to do was confirm everything was fine. So that was nice and easy. While it’s frustrating and a bit disconcerting when you don’t realise the reason, it does prove that the system works at trying to keep your finances secure. Apparently I should have got an automated phone call about it and, having spoken to Mum & Dad, I gather my phone did ring upstairs at home, but I obviously didn’t get it as I was away. Never mind, at least I managed to get it sorted quickly enough.

After that I went into town and met SM, TB and CH (another friend of SM’s from uni, who’s German and uses a wheelchair, he’s a cool guy). AB wanted to stay back home and watch the football, so the four of us went down to the Megabowl and had a light lunch there, before having a few games of bowling. We got some very good scores, and I managed to beat SM in both of the games we had! TB won one overall, and I won the other game, miraculously. with 129! We then met up with AB, and ended up having tea in an Italian restaurant, which was pretty good. I had meatballs on a bed of spaghetti, then shared a chocolate sundae with SM.

We then went to The Globe for a game of pool, before heading to the cinema and watching Duplicity – which, while ok, was rather confusing, considering I couldn’t read the captions that were coming up on the screen. So it didn’t dawn on me until later in the film that it was jumping forwards and backwards in the timeline to show how the main characters had been interacting, and then it all just about came together when it was all wrapped up at the end. So I think I understood what happened after all, but I can’t be completely sure! Never mind.

Sunday March 22, 2009

Today TB left early to get her train (she did have a 6 hour journey, including changes!), so SM & CH met AB & I, and we had lunch at Burger King. We then went back to AB’s flat and played SM’s other game that he’d brought along called Quiz Night, which was a CD with 20 rounds of questions for 2 quiz nights on it. We didn’t do too badly overall.

After that, SM got a taxi to the airport, and I took CH to Exeter Central, before making my own way home. I had to get a bus part of the way, which I had thankfully been warned about when buying my ticket on Wednesday.

It was great to see everyone this week. The weather was lovely too – warm and sunny during the daytime, then dry in the evenings, albeit a bit nippy. So it was well worth the trip.

At home, I’ve got my latest £50 Premium Bond cheque ready to put in, plus I’ve received the latest crop of DVDs I ordered (the ones I listed in my entry on the 17th), which formed some of the transactions that got my card blocked this week. So that’ll give me plenty to watch for a while! Mum got her flowers and chocolates that I’d ordered from John Lewis too, as it’s Mother’s Day today. The flowers look and smell lovely, and the choccies are very tasty! Nan got some flowers from John Lewis too this weekend.

And then tomorrow it’s back to normal again, to see what’s happening at work. But I’ll seeing AB again soon, along with a few other friends, for our trip to Spain, which is only about 4 weeks away now!

Saturday April 11, 2009

Heh, I really am getting lax with this journal this year aren’t I? I didn’t realise it had been so long since my last entry! So, what can I report?

Well, at work, we’ve had the results of our Job Evaluations back now. 4 of us haven’t had our pay reduced, myself included thankfully, but everyone else in our department has. Over 60% of the IT employees have gone down too, and the understandable frustrations over it got to the point where one guy broke his wrist smacking a desk after effing and blinding about it!

But even those of us who stayed on the same pay scale aren’t particularly happy, as technical jobs like ours aren’t being fully understood and thus not scored fairly, with some very obvious oversights. It’s a problem that’s affecting all councils to be fair, not just ours. The evaluation system just doesn’t seem fit to assess our type of work properly. So we’re all going to appeal, supporting each other through the process. It’s all complicated, political stuff really. Even though my evaluation result doesn’t affect me as much as it does others, I still want my job to be viewed fairly and accurately, which it currently isn’t.

Other than that issue though, which will keep rumbling away for months, work’s been going fine. There isn’t anything else worth reporting there.

At home, Dad was ill last night, and has spent the whole day in bed, which isn’t what he wants on Easter weekend! I’ve also been getting ready for the holiday with my friends, as we fly out to Spain next Sunday for a week. I’m looking forward to it, it’ll be nice to get away again.

I’ve also had a few small wins on the Premium Bonds, which is good. However, they’ve gone down to a single £1 million jackpot again (where they previously had two) and have started dishing out £25 prizes, when they haven’t done so for many years, so you can see how the recession’s hitting them too. But it’s still a safe investment.

Meanwhile, on the TV, there’s a new Doctor Who special tonight (Planet Of The Dead), and a brand new Red Dwarf mini-series (Back To Earth) running on Dave over Friday, Saturday and Sunday. So there is a bit of entertainment on the box.

News-wise, the big story this week has been an earthquake in Italy, that has killed hundreds of people and reduced a number of buildings to rubble. The G20 Summit was also held in London, so there was lots of security around Obama’s visit here, as he brought hundreds of staff with him. There were lots of protests during the summit too, as a result of which one man died, made worse when a video emerged of him being pushed over by a policeman shortly before his death, so that’s been all over the news this week. We’ve also had Jade Goody’s funeral recently (the Big Brother star who died of cancer). And there have been more revelations over MPs’ expenses, including Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, claiming for porn films her husband had watched on cable without her realising it. He looked very sheepish when he apologised! So there’s not been a lot of cheerful news.

Still, I’m happy anyway. I’ve got my holiday next week, so there should be a fair amount to mention in my next entry!

Author: Glen

Love London, love a laugh, love life. Visually impaired blogger, culture vulture & accessibility advocate, with aniridia & nystagmus, posting about my experiences & adventures.

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